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Rapid Reaction: Northwestern defeats Penn 63-55 in its home opener

Northwestern picked up its first win of the season.

@PennWBB on Twitter

EVANSTON, Ill. — After a crushing blowout on the road, Northwestern (1-1, 0-0 B1G) put on a reassuring performance at home, beating Penn (1-1, 0-0 Ivy) 63-55.

Joe McKeown’s squad had a balanced scoring attack throughout the afternoon. Courtney Shaw led the way with 12 points on 5-of-8 shooting and eight rebounds. Kaylah Rainey added 11 points and four assists, while Paige Mott, Sydney Wood and Caileigh Walsh each had nine points.

For the Quakers, Kayla Padilla scored 20 points on 6-of-16 shooting, with 15 of her points coming in the second half. Mandy McGurk added 15 points and four assists to complement Padilla.

The ‘Cats were able to open up a 5-0 lead behind some great transition basketball, with Courtney Shaw and Sydney Wood hitting nice buckets to take advantage of turnovers and fouls. Penn would claw back quickly though behind some great deep shooting from Mandy McGurk and Stina Almqvist to cut the deficit to 9-7, and with under five minutes to go in the opening frame McGurk hit a tough runner in the lane to make the score 12-9 Wildcats.

After the under-five media timeout, Northwestern hit the ground running. A pair of great fastbreak buckets from Paige Mott off the bench and a beautiful two-on-one run by Caroline Lau and Sydney Wood gave the Wildcats a 20-13 lead at the end of the first frame.

Wood was the key for the ‘Cats over the first 10 minutes, scoring seven points and chipping in a pair of rebounds as well. Paige Mott was also a post force off the bench, working the Penn defense inside with no trouble. For the Quakers, McGurk was almost the sole force of offense, also scoring seven points by getting some tough driving shots to fall. A big key for Northwestern was winning the battles for 50/50 balls, outrebounding Penn 13-8 in the first frame. Five of those boards came on the offensive end, leading to seven second-chance points.

It appeared Northwestern was well on its way to dominating the second quarter and the game, as Shaw helped lead a 9-0 run. After she twisted her way to a beautiful turnaround with 5:42 to go in the half, the score was 29-15 Wildcats and the game appeared to be well in hand.

Unfortunately, NU went cold after that. An offense that had been running smoothly began to be marred with turnovers and unlucky misses, and Penn responded accordingly. Despite an awful shooting quarter in which the Quakers went 3-for-18 from the field, Penn was able to stay in the game thanks to a stifling defense.

The middle stretch of the quarter was great for fans of defense, with the Quakers scoring three points total from the 9:32 mark to the 1:43 mark, and Northwestern scoring just four from the 8:20 mark to the 2:03 mark. Kaylah Rainey was able to save the offense slightly with a late three-pointer that broke a five minute stretch with no baskets for the Wildcats.

However, Northwestern’s excellent defense ensured that Penn had almost no consistent offense in the first half. The Quakers were 8-for-34 from the field in the first half and hit just three of their 15 tries from beyond the arc. Penn was also held to just eight points in the paint and committed four turnovers. McGurk had nine points in the half and Almqvist and Kayla Padilla both added five, but overall it was very rough sledding for Penn.

As for Northwestern, the offense was focused far more on the paint than the perimeter. Wood led the team with nine points, and Rainey and Shaw both added six. Mott was a nice spark off the bench, and Caileigh Walsh was dominant on the boards with eight rebounds. Shaw added six of her own, and their paint dominance was a big reason why Northwestern went into the half with a 34-23 lead.

Coming out of the locker room, Northwestern continued to push for momentum. Walsh knocked in a wide open three-pointer thanks to a scramble following an offensive rebound, and when Shaw drove in and scored again a minute later, the ‘Cats had extended the lead to 41-27.

Things seemed to be going peachy, but that was right when Penn began racing back again. McGurk made an incredible steal of a Shaw pass and turned it into a layup on the other end, and Northwestern then compounded the mistake by committing an inbound violation. While the ‘Cats did force a turnover, they gave it right back and then let Padilla hit a huge corner three to cut the lead to just seven points.

That was when Paige Mott decided to take things over for a while. First she made a sweet move to get an open jumper, and then followed it up by drawing an and-one on Penn’s Silke Milliman. Mott’s effort carried over to the rest of the team, and after a massive three-pointer from Laya Hartman, the ‘Cats lead ballooned to 16 points. Penn was able to salvage the quarter slightly thanks to some more McGurk magic, but Northwestern led 54-42 with just 10 minutes to go.

Once again, however, Penn kept working back into it. Padilla, who scored 15 of her 20 points in the second half, hit a big-time shot from well outside to push the lead back to seven. She followed that with a big bucket and the change, after drawing a foul on Walsh. The free throw cut the deficit to just five points with under five minutes to play.

The ‘Cats did not play well in the fourth quarter, hitting on just two of their 11 attempts over the first eight minutes of the frame. Things seemed to be at their direst when Jordan Obi hit her second three of the frame to cut the lead to 58-55 with just three minutes remaining. Luckily, Laya Hartman had other ideas and knocked in a massive three-pointer from the left wing to make the lead 61-55.

The Northwestern defense then picked all the way back up, not allowing a point in the final three minutes. Free throws provided the final scoring in this contest, where Northwestern was the better team all the way through and was able to survive its cold streaks. After a potentially demoralizing loss to Oregon, a win like this could provide lots of momentum for the ‘Cats as they prepare to really get into their early-season schedule.

Northwestern will continue its non-conference slate against No. 9 Notre Dame in Evanston at 8 p.m. CT this Wednesday.